Tug-of-war: Ukraine celebrates its tank-towing farmers
published : 29 Jul 2022 at 14:45
MALA ROGAN (UKRAINE) - Towed away gleefully as if it were parked illegally, the Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier doesn't look so intimidating as it is paraded before the delighted Ukrainians gathered to celebrate its seizure.
Theoretically, the 1970s MT-LB belongs to the Russian forces but they abandoned it in Ukraine's northeast, around 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the warring neighbours' shared border.
It was found by tractor driver Vitaliy Denysenko, who grins, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, as he pulls his prize around a field in the village of Mala Rogan, where it was left during a hasty withdrawal at the end of March.
"We needed two tractors to pull it out, which we were able to do after the military demined the field," the 44-year-old tells a group of reporters gathered to cover the spectacle.
Footage of Russian tanks and other military vehicles being towed away by plucky Ukrainian tractors has appeared regularly on social media since Moscow's February 24 invasion of Ukraine and quickly became a defining image of the country's resistance.
Denysenko followed the example of farmers across the country by donating his quarry to the military.
"We could not use it for ourselves. What could we do with it? Drive it to the village disco?" he said.
Ukrainian farmers have commandeered so many Russian vehicles in areas occupied and then abandoned by Moscow's withdrawing forces that wags on the internet began calling them Europe's "fifth-largest army."
- Craze -
Now their chutzpah is being celebrated by the country's national postal service, which had representatives in Mala Rogan on Thursday to launch a new stamp depicting one of the infamous heists.
Tetyana Fomenko, manager of the Kharkiv regional postal service's stamp-collection store, said it was the fourth military-themed stamp issued during the war, with five million due to go on sale.
It is unclear which Ukrainian first towed a Russian tank but the craze really took hold when Viktor Kychuk and his friends took charge of a Soviet T-80 on March 1 in Slatyne, a northeastern town of 6,000, just 13 kilometres from Russia.
"We found a lot of vehicles and equipment in our village once it was liberated... This one was really stuck," the 44-year-old told AFP, recalling shell fire raining down as they carried out the daring operation.
"There was a lot of discarded equipment, but the local team made the best of it," he added.
"They cut out all the wiring, punched through all the optics and everything that remained. Four units were taken out. And four pieces of equipment were taken away by our guys from the village."
- Symbol of defiance -
Kychuk sent a clip of him and his friends riding the tank away to regional military head Volodymyr Usov, who uploaded it to YouTube, where it went viral quickly clocking 350,000 views.
The Ukrposhta postal service has become something of a symbol of Ukrainian defiance after issuing a stamp in April depicting a soldier making giving the middle finger to the Russian Black Sea flagship Moskva.
The warship had been sunk days earlier by an explosion and fire that Ukraine claimed was caused by a missile strike -- while Russia said the damage was due to an explosion of munitions on board.
In Kyiv on Thursday there was a huge queue of people outside the central post office waiting to snap up the latest stamp.
Those in line were told there was a three-hour wait to get their hands on the prized memento.
"This is how we support the struggle of our people against the Russian aggressor," life-long stamp collector Vitaliy, 60, told AFP.
"But now there is a war going on, we, as patriots, support our country. A part of the money from the sale of these stamps will go to the armed forces of Ukraine."